17 March 2012

UK ministers tell the House of Commons they support efforts to connect St Helena

Member of Parliament Andrew Rosindell
Following his submission of parliamentary questions on the government's support for connecting St Helena to the South Atlantic Express cable conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, chairman of the Overseas Territories All-Party Parliamentary Group, was answered by the UK Minister of State for International Development Alan Duncan and UK Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham last week.

As to Rosindell's question what steps the Department for International Development was taking to improve broadband internet provision in British Overseas Territories Mr Duncan answered: "Good connectivity is important for the aided overseas territories, especially for those which are particularly isolated and cannot easily link to regional IT providers. There is currently no broadband connection in any aided overseas territory.

The Government of St. Helena is exploring the feasibility and potential costs of connecting St Helena with broadband suppliers. In the meantime, the Department for International Development has paid for recent increases in bandwidth of the satellite telecommunications link to St Helena. This is helping students to benefit from distance learning opportunities and allows the hospital to connect to better health service information."

Andrew Rosindell also seems to push for the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs getting involved into the effort of connecting St Helena when asking what discussions he has had with his South African counterpart on the provision of broadband internet connection in St Helena. Mr Bellingham replied: "The provision of telecommunications is the responsibility of the St Helena Government. We are aware that a South African company has set out plans to lay a fibre-optic cable connecting South Africa and Brazil and that the Government of St Helena has had initial discussions with them about the feasibility and costs of a link to St Helena. If the developers proceed with the project then a full economic assessment would be needed to consider the extent of the economic and social benefits that such a link could bring to St Helena."

Andrew Rosindell further asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he has taken to increase the provision of broadband internet connection in St Helena, resulting in Mr Bellingham stating: "The provision of telecommunications within the Overseas Territories is an area of devolved responsibility. On St Helena, it is the responsibility of the St Helena Government. In 2010, support from the British Government funded an increase in bandwidth to enable students and teachers at the secondary school in St Helena, Prince Andrew High School, adult students at the Adult and Vocational Education College, and the hospital to benefit from faster internet speeds and distance-learning."

The campaigners from connect St Helena highly appreciate Mr Rosindell's support for their cause.

Earlier this month eFive Telecoms CEO Dr. Rosalind Thomas confirmed that the plans for the South Atlantic Express cable potentially connecting St Helena are on track and that the cable will be live within two years. More precise estimates of costs for the branch to St Helena are expected to be provided during the next weeks.

Former BBC journalist and island resident Simon Pipe collected reactions to the news for St Helena Online.

High-speed broadband would be huge for education. Not only could we make better use of online materials, but with affordable broadband teachers could develop their practice from home.
I'm an IT engineer and I would love to return to my island to start an IT business, but because of the slow, expensive and unreliable internet connection this is simply impossible.
I had to leave St Helena to study. Being 5000 miles away from my family and friends is hard. Not being able to skype with them due to the slow and expensive internet on St Helena is even harder.
Socioeconomic status is now heavily reliant on broadband penetration. With the ever-growing importance of the internet, St Helena with its limited access is in danger of being left behind.